Thursday, May 31, 2012

You Deserve It

Words are so powerful. With them we can build up or destroy. As we walk through life we can either speak life and in a sense, death into a person. Looking back, I see that I have done both and can celebrate and mourn the thought.
When I go back in my mind through the times of my life I found that rarely has life been spoken into me. Don't get me wrong, I grew up in a wonderful home. It was a Wonder Years existence with me as Kevin Arnold. The all important practical side of life was very much safe and secure. But the deep questions of life remained mostly unanswered. I fear that most men these days live without those questions answered - Do I measure up? Is my dad proud of me? Am I really a man? It's not that our dads are inadequate or even to blame, but the fact that throughout the generations these questions remain unanswered. This is a tragedy.
I am deeply thankful that I have one shining moment where those elusive answers were found. Perhaps there were many others like it, but through the harsh times of shame and bullying I seemed to have lost them. I hope that this story can give all of us some hope.
I grew up the youngest of three brothers. When you're the youngest, you never quite catch up to your brothers. They're always smarter, always stronger, always more accomplished. One measuring stick was the fact that they had trophies: ones for baseball, basketball, music and academics. It became a deep desire for me to get a trophy. For once, I'd like to feel like the champion, the winner, the one who ends up on top.
The summer when I was eight was that time. We had a great baseball team. Although I wasn't the star, I was a big contributor. I could hit for average, steal bases and was a sure handed first baseman. We had a good collection of talent so the wins started piling up through the summer. Eventually, we ended up winning the city championship. It was a fun summer indeed!
So at the end of the summer, we got to feel likes kings of the city. We got to go to Candlestick Park to see the San Francisco Giants and our team was congratulated on the scoreboard. A few days later we got to receive our just prize. Yes, we got to parade around the park; we got our picture in the paper; but that paled in comparison to what I wanted: that trophy with my name on it! Realize this is in the day when only one team got a trophy - not in the "everybody gets a trophy" days that we live in today - it was a prize that was earned. I drove there with my friend Pete Damianakes (sorry if I misspelled this one, I was never good in Greek). Well the moment came and we lined up and I was handed my trophy. It had wood base and a golden ball player rapping out a hit (very much like the statue of Willie Mays in front of AT&T Park).
Not as impressive, but here's my coveted trophy:
It truly was a memorable day for me. I was so happy to have my very own trophy. On the drive home I was smiling and admiring this wonderful prize I had won. I feel that in some way I had arrived and that I was a winner. In that moment Mr. Damianakes caught me admiring my trophy. He broke the moment with the words:
"You're proud of that aren't you?"
Embarrassed I felt that deep feeling of shame that had already been heaped upon me in my eight years of life on fallen earth. These were words of correction that said that you're being too proud; and that you shouldn't brag. Even worse was the demeaning messages I had already heard as a child: you really don't deserve it; you weren't the star of the team; you were just lucky to be on a good team. Ashamed, I wanted to deny that I was proud of my trophy, but he obviously saw through me already. So I sheepishly admitted:
"Yes, I am proud of it."
I could feel myself tighten up bracing for the admonition that was forthcoming; an experience that I had been through all too many times already. His next words will stick with me the rest of my life. I can't think about them without a lump in my throat. Even almost forty years later I can put myself in the backseat of the car driving down Rose Lane and hear this brief conversation:
"You're proud of that aren't you?"
"Yes, I am proud of it."
Mr. Daminakes then said:
"Well you should be. You deserve it."
I was speechless and stunned. I choked back a tear as I let a validation that I had rarely received sink in. Even now I'm a bit choked up. Where has that been all of my life? Why doesn't that happen on a daily basis? Just know that a conversation I'm sure that Mr. Damianakes has long forgotten stays with me today.
Which brings me back to a truth that we all should hold deeply to. We have in our possession the ability to build up or tear down. My friend's dad built me up in a deep way with just a few words. We also have that power to bless in a meaningful way. My encouragement to you is to throw off what hurt and failure that is in the past, and move forward to a life of blessing others.
If you feel inadequate to the task (as I have felt), realize that your Heavenly Father has already validated you. He is proud of you, He knows that you measure up and that you have what it takes to do it. As Mr. Damianakes would say: "You deserve it."
 "No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God." John 16:27
To complete the story, Mr. Damianakes coached my baseball team two years later. We once again won the city championship. I felt that in some way, I made him proud. Even today, the trophy from this team sits on my nightstand. Here it is.

5/1/13 UPDATE
I have the great pleasure of meeting up with Mr. Daminakes and hopefully I'll see Pete later this week. It took 40 years, but I was able to sincerely thank him for his words. He didn't remember saying them, but the real important thing was the I remembered them. Let's keep on speaking life into others receiving strength from the One who gives us strength! 
Pete mentioned in an email that Mr. Daminakes claimed that the team that won the second championship was his favorite. My thought: "Me too!"

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